Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith doesn't presume that every album the band makes is destined to be a hit. But during the making of the band's new double album, Stadium Arcadium, he had a feeling.
“We felt really good about all of this music,” Smith says. “We wrote so much [music], and we wanted it all to be together, hence the double record. And when things are flowing like that and everyone's getting along and everyone is happy and healthy... that's a sign that we're not laboring over it. It's coming real naturally and real organically, and for our band, that's when we do our best stuff. So I had a feeling that... people were going to dig it.
“But you never know. All you can do is make it and put it out there.”
It didn't take long for Smith to see that his instincts were right. Stadium Arcadium became the first CD in the Peppers' 23-year career to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. It grabbed that spot with first-week sales of more than 400,000 copies and has since gone platinum, selling more than 1 million copies.
The lead single, “Dani California,” became a blockbuster single, grabbing hold of the No. 1 slot on the “Hot Modern Rock” and “Hot Mainstream Rock” charts. The song is still in the top five on both charts.
Indeed, these are some of the best of days for a band that has seen its share of peaks and valleys. Formed in 1983, the band has suffered the death of their original guitarist, in-fighting and the drug problems of several members, yet they somehow kept it together this long.
After a stint with guitarist Dave Navarro and 1995's disappointing One Hot Minute, previously departed guitarist John Frusciante replaced Navarro for 1999's Californication. It was a triumphant return, and the album sold more than 4 million copies. But things became strained again during recording sessions for 2002's By the Way.
In particular, bassist Flea felt Frusciante became too possessive of the songwriting process and was ignoring his ideas. As Flea revealed in a recent Rolling Stone interview, the resentment nearly caused him to quit the band.
Smith says he was surprised by Flea's revelations but can see it clearly in hindsight: “I didn't feel a big tension [at the time],” he says, “but there was some.”
“[Frusciante] had a real preconceived notion of how he wanted the stuff he was coming up with to sound, which was different,” Smith explains. “[In the past], we would always throw it out there and then everybody would do their own thing to it, and everybody's ideas were digested and listened to. He kind of had more of an idea of what he wanted prior to [recording By the Way] and [didn't] let everyone do his own thing to it. I think that he knew [he was doing it]-not at the time, but afterwards. He was like, ‘That's kind of a selfish way of being and I'm not using these other musicians to their fullest.'”
Frusciante-who has developed into the band's principal songwriter while singer Anthony Kiedis writes the lyrics and vocal melodies-clearly embraced the idea of teamwork on Stadium Arcadium.
The harmony in the band was not just a product of Frusciante's self-awareness. In 2004, after five years of nearly non-stop touring and recording, the group took a rejuvenating six-month break. By the time they convened in September of that year for their first jam sessions, their personal lives were much, much better. Today Smith is married, Flea is engaged and Kiedis and Frusciante are in long-term relationships.
“I think that we've found a balance,” Smith says. “If you're happy at home, then that's going to carry over into your [work]... or whatever it is that you do.”
At those first sessions, the song ideas started flooding out. Smith was impressed not only by the quantity, but also the quality.
“It just fell together really organically and easy, and quickly,” Smith said. “The more we kept going, the more we were like ‘Wow, more good [stuff's] coming.' It's like the floodgates opened.”
In the end, nearly 40 songs were written and considered for Stadium Arcadium, before the band and producer Rick Rubin trimmed that selection down to the 28 tracks filling two CDs.
“The last two records-Californication and even more so on By the Way-we were kind of done with the funk thing,” Smith says. “I think with Anthony becoming a better singer and melodies he brings in and having John back in the group-with his writing style that he's come to do and do well-we wrote some things that were more melodic, not ignoring the funk, but it was kind of on the back burner.... [Funk] is a big part of what we do and our sound and who we are. I think we melded that on this record.”
Smith said it's tempting for the band to stock its live set with Stadium Arcadium songs. But the band didn't get this far by ignoring its prolific past.
“You can't just do that,” he said. “You have to play some of the old chestnuts that people come to enjoy and are part of the reason they come to see us play. So we do play about six or seven new songs a night, and we switch those up from town to town and night to night. It's been great.”